How to Get Rid of Indian Meal Moths: Effective Methods and Tips

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Indian meal moths are a common and frustrating pantry pest, feeding on a variety of stored foods like grains, dried fruit, and even pet food. The larvae cause significant damage to food items, while the adult moths can become a nuisance as they fly around the home. Learning how to effectively manage and eliminate these pests is essential for maintaining a clean and pest-free kitchen.

One of the first steps to tackling an Indian meal moth infestation is identifying the source. These moths can thrive in a range of food products, such as seeds, chocolate, and spices. Considering their wide food preferences, it is essential to inspect your pantry thoroughly and remove any contaminated items to halt their population growth.

Once you have identified the infested items, there are several options available for effectively eliminating these pantry pests. Methods may include using pheromone traps, freezing infested items, and diligently cleaning and sealing all food storage containers to prevent future infestations.

Identifying Indian Meal Moths

Appearance and Size

Indian Meal Moths are a common pantry pest with a distinctive appearance. The adult moths have a wingspan of about 3/4 inch, and the outer 1/2 to 2/3 of their wings are reddish-copper colored, while the inner part is light grayish-brown. The head and thorax are red-brown, and the hindwings are gray. Larvae are dirty white with a pinkish or greenish tint and have brown heads.

Distinctive Behavior

  • Nocturnal: Indian Meal Moths are primarily active at night.
  • Insects: They are attracted to grain products, seeds, dried fruit, dog food, and spices.
  • Pantry pests: Adults typically lay eggs in food sources where larvae will feed.

Life Cycle

  • Larvae: Feed on a variety of pantry items and grow into the adult moth stage.
  • Adults: Mate and lay eggs, starting the cycle over again.

tip: Regularly cleaning your pantry and storing food in airtight containers helps prevent infestations.

Causes of Infestation

Common Food Sources

Indian meal moths are attracted to a variety of food sources, mainly dry foods and pantry items. Some common examples include:

  • Flour and grains: Rice, pasta, and cereal are all attractive to these pests.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are some examples.
  • Dried fruits: Raisins, apricots, and cranberries can be infested.
  • Pet food and birdseed: Dry cat or dog food and birdseed are often targets of Indian meal moths.
  • Spices: Dried herbs and spices are also susceptible to infestation.

Habits and Diet

Indian meal moth larvae are the ones of primary concern as they feed on food products. They can often be found in large quantities in places like pantries due to the availability of food sources. Factors that contribute to their habits include:

  • Prolific breeding: These moths lay many eggs, increasing infestation.
  • General feeders: Their ability to eat a wide range of food items makes them versatile pests.

Entry Points

Indian meal moths can enter your pantry and home through various means, such as:

  • Infested food purchases: Bringing home food that already has larvae or eggs can introduce an infestation.
  • Open doors and windows: Unprotected access points allow moths to enter.
  • Cracks and crevices: Small entry points in walls or foundations provide moths with access to your home.

Prevention and Control

Proper Storage

To prevent Indian meal moths, store food in tightly sealed containers. For example:

  • Glass jars with airtight lids
  • Plastic containers with tight-fitting lids
  • Zip-top storage bags

Maintaining Cleanliness

Clean your kitchen regularly:

  • Wipe down shelves with soap and water
  • Vacuum cupboards and pantry areas
  • Dispose of expired food products

Regular cleaning removes potential food sources and discourages moth infestations.

Sealing Cracks and Crevices

Inspect your home and seal any openings where moths could enter:

  • Check walls, floors, and ceilings
  • Repair gaps in windows or doors
  • Seal cracks in cupboards and pantries

Home Remedies

Several home remedies can help control Indian meal moths:

  • Place infested items in the freezer for at least 72 hours to kill eggs and pupae
  • Heat small items in the oven at 130°F for 1-2 hours to eliminate infestations
  • Use a vinegar and water solution to clean surfaces where moths might reside
Pros Cons
Freezer treatment is non-toxic and effective Requires space in your freezer for at least 72 hours
Heating items in the oven is fast Not suitable for all products, risk of burning
Vinegar and water solution is a natural, cost-effective cleaning option The smell of vinegar can be off-putting to some

Remember, prevention and early treatment are the best ways to keep Indian meal moths out of your kitchen.

Extermination Methods

Pheromone Traps

Pheromone traps are a popular method to control Indian meal moths. These traps work by attracting adult moths with artificial sex hormones, trapping them inside, and preventing reproduction.

  • Pros: non-toxic, easy to use
  • Cons: may not catch all moths, need to replace regularly

Examples include glue-based pheromone traps, which are typically disposable and placed near infested areas.

Vacuuming and Cleaning

Regular cleaning can help to control moth larvae and reduce infestations. Vacuum all areas where they may hide, such as cracks, walls, and crevices, focusing on pantries and food storage areas.

  • Make sure to also: inspect food packaging, clean shelves and containers, and discard infested foods in sealed bags.

Pesticides and Insecticides

Chemical sprays and insecticides can be used to control moth activity. However, it is crucial to choose a product specifically labeled for Plodia interpunctella or Indian meal moths.

  • Remember: Remove food sources before spraying and follow label instructions for proper application.

Professional Pest Control

When dealing with severe infestations, contacting a professional pest control company is recommended. They have the experience, tools, and expertise to handle moth problems more effectively.

  • Benefits: Comprehensive approach, expert advice, faster eradication
  • Drawbacks: Cost, may require multiple visits

Comparison Table

Method Pros Cons Examples
Pheromone Traps Non-toxic, easy to use May not catch all moths, need to replace often Glue-based traps
Vacuuming/Cleaning No chemicals, low cost Time-consuming, must be done regularly Vacuuming cracks, crevices; cleaning shelves, containers
Pesticides Faster results, more effective Chemicals can be harmful, only for specific use Insecticides labeled for Indian meal moths
Professional Comprehensive, expert support Cost, may require multiple visits Pest control companies

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Indian Meal Moth

 

1/4″ Fly / Moth / Roach looking bug. What is this??
Sun, Oct 5, 2008 at 10:13 PM
Hello Bugman!
I’ve had a few of these interesting yet annoying bugs flying around my house lately and I’ve been unable to find anything resembling it online.. It appears to have antenna folded along it’s wings and is approxamately 1/4″ long. Luckly it had no problem staying in one position for an hour while I attempted to capture some decent pics of it.. I am located in southeast Georgia in the little town of Ludowici, 45 minutes south of Savannah. Thanks for helping me put a name with this face!
Tom Goss
Ludowici, GA 31316 Southeast Georgia

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Hi Tom,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, Plodia interpunctella, which probably means you have an infestation of caterpillars in some stored grain product in your pantry.  Check the oatmeal box or corn meal for the caterpillars and check BugGuide for more information.

Letter 2 – Indian Meal Moth

 

What is this bug?
ILocation: celing of pantry and just outside the pantry
March 10, 2011 12:21 am
I am hoping you can ID this bug.
Signature: Bill

Indian Meal Moth

Hi Bill,
You have Indian Meal Moths,
Plodia interpunctella, a cosmopolitan species that has adapted to feeding on stored foods in domiciles.  Often the first indication that there is an infestation is the adult moths feebly fluttering in the kitchen or in front of the television set.  The adult moths do not feed on grain products, but the larvae do.  The presence of the adult Indian Meal Moths should be a signal to check the pantry for infested grains, cookies and other similar products.  They have also been known to infest bird seed and pet food.

Letter 3 – Indian Meal Moth

 

We think it’s a moth
Location: Ottawa, ON
December 7, 2011 11:13 pm
We’ve had a bunch of these in the house recently. They seem to be a moth of some kind, but they’re not in clothes or carpets or food. We’d like to know what it is, and what we can do to help get rid of them.
Signature: Bret and Meg

Indian Meal Moth

Dear Bret and Meg,
This is an Indian Meal Moth, a common moth that infests stored food in the pantry including corn meal and oatmeal as well as pet foods and bird seed.  You should inspect the pantry and remove any infested grain products.

Letter 4 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: A new invasive insect on top of the stink bugs we already have…
Location: 20735-1870 [Ed. Note:  Maryland] January 23, 2013 9:34 am
Hello!
This past month as the temperatures are dipping below freezing here in Southern Maryland, I noticed that we have gotten another insect that is invading my home on top of the stink bugs that we already have. I want to say its a moth, but I can’t be for certain. They fly pretty slowly and aren’t hard to catch with a sweater either! They hang out on the walls and notice them in my room often, which faces east. Can you identify it and tell me if I need to stock up on my mothballs? Thanks!
Signature: Bonnie

Indian Meal Moth

Hi Bonnie,
This is an Indian Meal Moth,
Plodia interpunctella, a common household pest.  Adults are just an annoyance and they will not harm your clothes.  The caterpillars feed on stored grain products.  We would urge you to clean out the pantry.  Pay special attention to an old box of cornmeal or pancake mix that is in the back of the cupboard.  Fumigation won’t do much good since you need to get at the food source to eliminate the problem.

Thanks!!! What a fast reply too! I’ve cleaned the cabinets of these old boxes of cereal, so that should help!
Best Regards,
Bonnie

Letter 5 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: Sudden Strange Flying Moth Infestion
Location: NYC
October 7, 2013 8:14 pm
Hello Mr. Bugman! Over the last week or so, I have been noticing these bugs flying around my apartment. They are slow, but flurry their wings so are quite noticeable. It has gotten much worse over the last few days. Just now I killed about 15 of them. I live in small studio apartment in Manhattan. I even just noticed them in the cabinet above the sink. They are everywhere. I have had carpet beetle problems for years, but those flyers were very different (much smaller) than these. When I kill these, they have a black chalk to them with some red blood, but not much. Attaching photos for you! Please help!
Signature: Flying Fiasco in NYC

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Dear Flying Fiasco in NYC,
You have Indian Meal Moths.  Go directly to the pantry.  Inspect the corn meal, oatmeal, flour, pancake mix and all other grain and vegetable drygoods.  Check out the stored nuts.  Look at the pet food.  Even tightly sealed containers don’t help if the infestation occurred at the factory or grocery store.

Hello Daniel!
Thank you so much for your reply. After a little investigation on Google, I did suspect this on my own last night. I had a big bag of Chinese herbs that were made up for me about 4 months ago, which have been left untouched. Those were definitely the culprit and disposed of every last food thing in my cabinets. Good thing I am single in the city and didn’t have much food.
My only concern is that it did get into the pet food that was NOT in the cabinet, and this may explain why my pooch has been having diarrhea!
One more thing, a worm or two were found while I was cleaning near the sink (probably from taking the bag down from up top). I managed to find and kill those, but do I need to worry those guys will lay eggs? Or that some of the stray moths will lay eggs in other parts of my apartment? I saw many that were flying into the hallway closet adjacent to the kitchen. Please advise.
THANK YOU AGAIN so much for being so amazing!!!
G.

Hi again G.,
We do not believe ingesting moth larvae will give your dog diarrhea.  The moths will only lay eggs where there is a food supply.  We suspect that many home Pantry Moth infestations begin by bringing home items that have already come into contact with the moths, though once established, the infestations can spread to other items.  Chances are quite good that much of the food that is consumed has eggs or larvae that go unnoticed, but when the items sit on the shelf forgotten for long periods of time, the infestations progress to the point where the adult moths are noticed.  We once opened a long forgotten container of oatmeal and discovered quite a surprise.

Hi Daniel,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Will these flyers get into my closets and lay eggs? Found two more this evening upon arriving home. Near the kitchen…
G

Hi again G.,
Indian Meal Moths have no interest in your closet or your woolen clothes.

Hooray for that. Now to finally track down the carpet beetles that have been taunting me for 10 yrs. good night and thanks again!!
g.

Update:  24 October 2013
Hi Daniel,
Hope this finds you well. It has been nearly 3 weeks since our first email exchange and although I have removed ALL of the food from my cupboards (which was not much since I am a bachelorette) I am still discovering flying objects mainly in the kitchen and on the walls of my apartment. Could it be leftover larvae that are hatching this late in the game? So frustrating. I’ve thrown away even tea, factory sealed. Do I need to toss my spices? I just don’t know where they could be living at this point…
Any knowledge would be excellent!
Flying Fiasco in NYC

Hi again G.,
They might have infested the spices.  Do you have pets?  You might want to also check that bargain bag of pet food.

I have a dog, yes, but he in no way eats bargain pet food 🙂 I have a small bag of ziplocked food, brand new bag, so it’s definitely not infested. I will throw away the spices. Thank you!

Letter 6 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Subject: Little Brown Moths everywhere
Location: Northern Virginia
February 2, 2014 7:10 am
These little guys seem to have taken up residence in my home Springfield, VA. Mostly in the kitchen but they show up in the bathrooms etc too. Seem to be coming form within the house but I am not sure. I have brought some old firewood in this winter. Any help on an ID is greatly appreciated.
Signature: tom in Springfield, va

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Dear Tom,
This is an Indian Meal Moth,
Plodia interpunctella, a species with larvae that infest stored grain products, including flour and corn meal.  Check your pantry to see if you have a forgotten container of oatmeal that has become infested.  You can read more about the Indian Meal Moth on BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Indian Meal Moth

 

Indian Meal Moth
Indian Meal Moth

Subject: What kind of moths are these?
Location: Queens, NY
October 20, 2014 12:02 pm
My girlfriend has been finding a bunch of these (what I believe to be) moths in her bedroom; one night, she encountered 10. To me, they resemble Indian Meal Moths. We typically find these at night, but that might just be a coincidence as we’re at work during the day.
We’ve never seen them flying around; whenever we turn on the lights, they just don’t move.
The door to the bedroom is right next to the entrance to the kitchen, which led me to believe that they were Indian Meal Moths, but there are no moths in the kitchen.
Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to your response.
Signature: AG

Dear AG,
Clean out the pantry, paying especial attention to grain products and nuts.  You have Indian Meal Moths and the Caterpillars are eating your stored dry goods.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Indian Meal Moth

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Yeah. Definitely an infestation in your pantry. Go through all the grain products.

    Reply
  • Thanks for the identification of this meal moth! I wish I could say I found the source of these pests, but my pantry is free of any bugs. They are in my bathroom, not my kitchen! Nothing in there for them to “infest” that I’ve found.. I’m stumped for now.. :-O

    Reply
  • You may want to check the pet food as a possible infestation ground zero.

    Reply
  • I have been buying bird food from a small pet store. I started seeing these larva/ moths/worms in my clost for a week. Cleared out my whole closet and seen nothing. Tonight I got on this site and every story was exactly what I was dealing with. I bought more bird food from this same store last night and then tonight checked all my sealed bird food and peanuts and guess what I found. Moths and larva all in the bags of bird food and worms in both bird bags and peanuts. Thoroughly check and seal all pet food you bring into your house. It was horrible but now that I’ve located the problem I’m hoping it will be resolved. I got rid of every bit of it. Just think I fed my bird these eggs and worms. Makes me sick. Going to the bird store tomorrow with bags and peanuts and demand money back and will never shop there again.

    Reply
  • Indian meal moths can be difficult to get rid of so it may be best to hire a professional to come in to eliminate them. In my opinion, it can help save you time, money, and stress later on, especially if this has been an on going problem. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • We are going to disagree with you unless the person hired cleans out the pantry. Fumigating for the adult moths will not get to the source of the infestation, which is the larvae that are feeding on stored foods or pet food.

      Reply

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